We just found out that an air attack plane under contract to the Department of the Interior crashed May 17 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The Rockwell Aero Commander 500S impacted the ground shortly after takeoff.
The aircraft was on an orientation flight for a new pilot on the air attack contract. It was operated by Ponderosa Aviation and was taking off from Sierra Vista Municipal Airport – Libby Army Airfield, in Arizona.
Below is an excerpt from the NTSB preliminary report:
The pilot and certified flight instructor were seriously injured, and the airplane sustained substantial damage throughout. The airplane was registered to, and operated by Ponderosa Aviation Inc. under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as an orientation flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local area flight.
Witnesses reported they observed the airplane takeoff normally. When it was over the departure end of the runway, they heard a distinct “pop pop” noise followed by silence. The airplane immediately made a steep left turn; as the wings started to level, it descended below rising terrain. Shortly thereafter they observed a large dust cloud.
On November 23, 2011 another Ponderosa Aviation aircraft, a Rockwell 690, crashed, killing six people including three children and Russel Hardy, a co-owner of the company. The NTSB concluded that the cause of that crash on a moonless night was “controlled flight into terrain”.
Although the airplane was technically not airworthy due to the unaccomplished inspection, the investigation did not reveal any preimpact airframe, avionics, engine, or propeller discrepancies that would have precluded normal operation. Airplane performance derived from radar tracking data did not suggest any mechanical abnormalities or problems.
Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s complacency and lack of situational awareness and his failure to use air traffic control visual flight rules flight following or minimum safe altitude warning services. Also contributing to the accident was the airplane’s lack of onboard terrain awareness and warning system equipment.
An air attack plane operated by Houston Air experienced a very hard landing at Wilcox, AZ on July 2.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Duncan.